Duo stripped quickly, stepping under the hot shower with a blissful smile.
It's too bad, he thought, that I can't take all this water back with me to L2. He grabbed the shampoo Havoc had loaned him, and sniffed it carefully. It didn't smell nearly as fruity as the stuff at the doctor's house, and Duo quickly lathered his hair, sighing as the hot water rinsed a train ride's grime from his body.
Twenty minutes later he was dressed in the clothes Havoc had found for him, and was brushing and braiding his hair by the dorm's mirror. The place was empty, but Duo kept his back to the wall, and his ears trained for the sounds of footsteps. Duo had to grin, remembering Havoc's reaction when Duo pulled out his gun. It wasn't like Havoc wasn't already carrying a piece of his own, but Duo wondered for a second if the man had never seen a gun before, given his reaction. It was only once Duo had ejected the round, popped out the magazine, and dismantled the gun completely, that Havoc had calmed down. The gun was now wrapped in a dry towel, hidden in the bundle of wet towels. Duo rolled up the legs of the sweats, and realized they weren't possibly Havoc's. The sweatshirt was a little large, but nothing that swamped him completely.
In the dormitory hallways, he checked to make sure the place was empty before trotting back to the room. Sleep was creeping up on him, and he wondered if he'd get to use one of those two bunks. He pushed the door open, to find Havoc had returned.
"Brought you some breakfast," Havoc said, holding out a box of donuts. "Don't know if you've ever had these—"
Duo took one, sniffing it suspiciously before sneezing from the powdered sugar. "Smells good," Duo said, but waited until Havoc grabbed one and began eating. Duo finished off the one in his hand in nothing flat, dropping the towels on the lower bunk as he reached for another donut.
"The wallets," Havoc said. When Duo looked confused, Havoc held one up. "These aren't yours."
"Nope," Duo replied, grinning around his third donut. "I needed...money...to get from train station to military building."
"Hm," Havoc said, eyeing the wallets. "Well, I'll see if I can find the people and return their wallets. Can't be helped, now, I suppose." He took another donut and leaned back in the chair, stretching his legs out in front of him. "So...why do you have a gun?"
"I fight," Duo said. He watched Havoc for a second, his eyes narrowed, as he assessed the man. Obviously military, but Duo wasn't getting the same feeling from Havoc that he got dealing with Oz officers. As a matter of fact, he thought, Havoc felt more like Howard. The thought made Duo a little homesick, but more comfortable at the same time. "In my world, the military is bad."
Havoc face was serious, and he nodded once, a curt move. All pretense of jest was gone.
"Five of us," Duo continued. "We fight to free the..." He wondered how to explain the colonies, when this world still had combustion engines in its cars and steam engines on its trains. "We fight to free the far-away places." He glanced up and Havoc nodded again, understanding the intent if not the actual circumstances. "It's not easy," Duo admitted. "We fight on our own, lots. But sometimes together, too...military has some useful things. We take their guns, their weapons..." He grinned, and decided to test a theory. He flashed a quick series of hand signals at Havoc, who laughed. Duo grinned and grabbed another donut.
Havoc's right hand flashed through a set of similar signals. Two fingers pointing down, followed by a flat hand, palm-down then up, and two more quickly fingers pointing in both directions, then a single finger upward. "Every world must have a need for silence," Havoc observed.
Duo nodded, and took the last donut when Havoc pushed the box towards him. "Are...Edward and Alphonse okay?"
"I don't know," Havoc said. "I'm sure they'll arrive, with Ed in a fine temper and Al being worried that they're late." He opened a pack of cigarettes, and stuck one in his mouth, but didn't light it. "It's the way it usually works."
"Yeah, I guess," Duo said, and yawned around the last bite of his donut. "Sorry."
"No problem," Havoc told him, standing. "You get some sleep. This is Fury's room. If a short guy with glasses shows up, don't worry. He knows you're here. Think a few hours of sleep will be enough?"
"Three, four?" Duo pushed the towels to the end of the bed and stretched out, licking his fingers of the last of the sugar.
"Okay. I don't know what the Lieutenant Colonel is planning, but one of us will let you know as soon as we find out." Havoc opened the door, checking the hallway. "And don't open the door unless you hear this." He tapped lightly on the door, three short taps, a pause, and two short taps. "Got that?"
"Three, stop, two."
"Good." Havoc picked up the bundle of Duo's clothes. "I know a girl who will get these cleaned for you, and one of us will drop them off when they're done. Sleep well, kid." He Duo a cocky salute and grinned, and was out the door.
There was a click as he locked it behind him, and Duo sighed. Digging through the towels for his gun, he slipped it under the pillow and laid back down. I want to go home, he thought, yawned, and was asleep immediately.
Duo woke up when he heard a tapping. He watched as a young man entered, but didn't move, his hand on the gun under his pillow. The man's hair was black, and tousled, and his face was wide and childish. He waved with a few fingers in a way that reminded Duo of Quatre, and put Duo's clean clothes on the chair by the bed. Without another word, the young man slipped from the room, locking the door behind him again. Duo rolled over on his side, staring at the clothes, then sat up with a start. Something looked different...
Grabbing the priest's shirt, he unfurled it, surprised to find the holes under the armpits had been neatly patched, and the rips along the side were darned so skillfully there was hardly any sign of damage. Duo whistled under his breath, astonished at the kindness, and pulled off the borrowed clothes, putting on his own shirt and jeans with a happy grin. Slipping the socks on, he noticed the hole in the left toe was gone, and he wriggled his toes cheerfully before putting on his boots. His stomach was growling again, and that was reason enough to get out and investigate.
He pulled on his coat and stuck his head out the door, checking the hallway before stepping out. It took only a few seconds with his number-seven lock pick and the soft click told him the door was locked. Satisfied, he slipped the lock pick back into his braid, tucked his braid under his coat, and strolled down the wide dormitory hallway like he belonged.
Heading out the front door, he waved to the girl at the front desk, who blinked at him, but Duo didn't stop to chat. Out in the sunshine, he glanced up at the sky and wondered what time it was. He was pretty sure several hours had passed, but the whole idea of telling the time by the sun was Quatre's area of expertise, not his. Duo grinned to himself and shoved his hands in his pockets, trotting down the walkway between the dormitory and the main Annex building.
At the back door, Duo glanced around, surprised to see bushes and trees were cloaking the entrance, but he could only grin. If this world was full of idiots with no sense of secure premises, which suited him just fine. Even if, he thought smugly, it was almost as though they'd taken lessons from Oz. Duo jiggled the lock with the pick, and when it clicked, he slipped inside with a quiet laugh.
Jogging up the back stairs, he poked his head through the second-floor door. Mustang's office was somewhere at the other end of the floor, from what he recalled of the roundabout path Havoc had used. Trotting down the hallway, he was surprised to find himself on a balcony overlooking the main entrance. Duo fiddled with his empty pockets, almost embarrassed that he didn't have anything suitable to drop on that bastard guard's head. Voices wafted up to him, and he leaned over the railing, curious. One look made him pull back in shock, and he took off down the corridor, heading for Mustang's office.
It was Selwyn, with four other men.
Duo cursed under his breath. The men had been heading for the stairs, which meant they'd soon be on the second floor. He was cut off, unless he found a good window and went the short way to the ground. In broad daylight, however, his black clothing would make him stand out, not blend in, and he skidded across the tile floor as he took the corner sharply. Up ahead, a woman was stepping out of an office, folders in her hand. He recognized her, and racked his brains for her name.
"Second, uh...Hawkeye!" He came to a halt in front of her.
"Duo Maxwell?" She glanced past him, to the empty hallway, puzzled. "Shouldn't—"
"Selwyn, from...that town, is back there, with four more people," Duo said, panting a little. "The one who took me before."
Hawkeye nodded sharply. "Come on," she said, turning and heading down the hallway in the direction they'd come. Duo gaped, then took off after her. At the door just before the corner, she halted, throwing the door open and letting Duo go in ahead of her. "Fury, Havoc," she said, and shut the door behind Duo. Her footsteps retreated down the hallway at a fast clip.
Duo grinned at Havoc, his grin growing wider when he saw Alphonse. "Selwyn," he explained. "He's—"
"Major Selwyn?" Alphonse came to his feet. "Oh, this is bad. Warrant Officer Furman, we have to hide Duo—"
"The storage closet?" Fury, the young man with dark hair and glasses, looked at the door. Heavy footsteps were coming down the hallway. Duo cocked his head, listening.
"Five men," Duo said. "Where do I go?" He saw the window and headed for it, trying the latches, but they were stuck. Grunting, he shoved at them, until someone yanked him backwards. He spun, and yelped as he was shoved headfirst—right into the empty chest cavity of Alphonse's suit of armor. "Wait—"
"Hush," Alphonse whispered. "Just be very—"
Duo could hear the office door opening. There was the rustling and scraping sounds of chairs moving, probably from people standing up and saluting, he thought. His face was pressed against his knees, and his coat was bunched up around his waist. His right foot was tucked under him, and his left foot seemed to be lodged in Alphonse's armpit. He was tightly wedged in the space, but as Alphonse shifted, Duo could feel his coat sliding against the metal, and he slid down in the suit. It wedged him even farther, with one hand trapped between his knees and the other tucked under him. He gritted his teeth, and pressed his face to his knees, muffling his breathing with the coat's fabric.
"Ah, no, sir," Alphonse was saying. "I'm not the Fullmetal Alchemist. My older brother is."
Duo rolled his eyes.
"He's with Mustang," one of the other men's voices said.
It was hard to hear through the metal, and Duo strained to identify the voice. It sounded a little like Havoc, but he wasn't sure. There was a discussion going on, but the voices were too far away or too quiet for Duo to pick out the sounds. Alphonse settled down, the metal clanking, and Duo relaxed a little as the change in the armor's position supported him more than when Alphonse had been standing up. Duo grunted, trying to free his left arm, and Alphonse coughed softly.
"No, sir," Alphonse said then. "I'm just waiting for my brother."
It was at least a good ten long minutes before there was any noise again, and Duo marveled at Alphonse's patience. He, on the other hand, couldn't feel a damn thing in his right leg, and his left leg was cramping so badly he was ready to start clawing at something. That is, he'd claw, he decided, if he could feel anything in his left arm, and if his right arm wasn't twitching to get at the itch behind his ear. Then his nose started itching, too, but at least that he could relieve by rubbing his face against his knee. He sighed, and tried to ignore it. After several minutes, he realized he hadn't successfully ignored anything; instead, he'd just managed to cut off enough circulation that he simply couldn't feel most of his body. Duo decided he now could relate to pretzels.
A new voice had spoken, and Duo tensed, listening closely. Alphonse shifted, and Duo braced himself against the interior of the suit as Alphonse came to his feet.
"Captain Hughes!" Alphonse's voice was excited, but a little anxious.
"Where's your brother? Look, I have pictures of Alicia," Hughes drawled, and Alphonse made some strange little sounds. "See? It's her new dollhouse. And this is her dump truck! She's moving the furniture around...isn't that brilliant?"
Duo frowned, wondering who the man was. He sounded like a complete ninny.
"Captain Hughes, sorry to intrude," Havoc said. "The Lieutenant Colonel wanted me to inform Alphonse that his brother will be under escort while he produces a report on the Doctor's research—"
"Escort?" Alphonse sounded worried, his voice going up a little in pitch. "Is my brother—"
"I'm sure he'll be fine, Alphonse," Havoc assured him. "Perhaps it'd be best if you spent the afternoon keeping yourself occupied..."
"I have the afternoon free," Hughes said, and his voice sounded like he was grinning. Duo ground his teeth and wondered why Alphonse seemed to be shrinking backwards, away from the voice. Then again, Duo wasn't sure he could blame Alphonse. "Come on, we'll go see Alicia!"
The next thing Duo knew, his teeth were knocked against each other as Alphonse's every step jarred him from tailbone to skull. Grunting, he braced himself against the insides of the suit of armor, and held on tightly. There wasn't much to hold onto. He wondered if he'd end up with a nosebleed—or worse, a broken nose—from having his knee slamming up against his nose with every step.
Noises outside seemed to echo, and Duo figured they had entered the main lobby. He grunted with each step, feeling himself fall farther down into the suit of armor. The doors slammed behind them, and Duo began counting the steps back to the main gate. He wondered what the risks were if he just started screaming to get out. The only bright spot in the entire experience, as far as Duo could tell, was that at least he wasn't claustrophobic. Enough hours stuck in Deathscythe's cockpit had taught him that space is purely mental, but then again, he'd never had his arm trapped between his knees while his left leg stuck straight up, either.
Mustang couldn't fit in this, either, Duo thought, but it wasn't much consolation.
At the two-hundredth and third step, Alphonse bent over, then sat down. Duo blinked, then realized they were now in a car, heading somewhere. His butt was now against the bottom of the suit of armor, and he relaxed. That is, until the car went over a bump and he knocked his head against the armor's front chest covering.
"Alphonse?" Hughes sounded confused.
"Ah, it's nothing, sir," Alphonse said.
"Driver, take it easy on these roads," Hughes ordered, a little louder.
A few turns, a few quick swerves to miss what Duo guessed might be worse bumps, and he could only bite back groans as he was knocked about. Then the car rolled to a stop, Alphonse got out, and Duo began wondering again about whether his nose would survive being squished up against his knees.
"Gracia! Alicia! Look who I brought home!" Hughes' voice was loud, and Duo could hear a door shutting behind them. A little girl was shouting something, off at a distance, and Duo took a deep breath, bracing himself for more of the same rattling and bumping. He was startled when something tapped on the suit of armor. Three soft taps, a pause, and two more. "Hey, you in there," Hughes said, in a friendly voice. "You want to come out and use your own legs for a bit?"
Duo stretched his legs out, leaning back into the sofa as he blew on the hot chocolate a few more times before taking another sip. The first sip had burnt his tongue, but the taste was worth the pain. He sighed, sipping slowly, and studied the man across from him. Outside, Alphonse was playing with Alicia, raking autumn leaves into a pile. Gracia was in the kitchen, but appeared again with a plate of cookies.
"If you're anything like Edward," she told Duo, "you're probably hungry."
"Ah, I'm nothing like him," Duo said, and took one of the cookies with a grin. "He's short."
Hughes nearly spit out his drink, and leaned over, slapping his knee as he laughed. Duo winked at Gracia, who looked startled, then smiled back as she left the room. Duo watched her go, munching on his cookie, then turned to see Hughes perfectly serious, and watching him carefully. Duo returned the look, his amusement melting into a somber expression as he waited.
"Mustang's got General Tanaka breathing down his neck," Hughes announced. "Tanaka is Major Selwyn's commanding officer. We're lucky; they didn't see reason to follow the Fullmetal Alchemist's brother around, too."
"Are you sure?" Duo gave the man a sharp look.
Hughes' green eyes narrowed, and he nodded. For a second, he looked a great deal like Trowa—the same cool, calculated expression. "Absolutely certain. But I'd recommend you stay away from the windows, regardless. I'm not sure what Mustang's planning, but you're welcome to stay here until we hear from him."
"You're not going to ask me who I am, or what I'm doing here?"
"No need, unless you want to tell the story again." Hughes snatched a cookie and leaned back, a blissful smile on his face. "Ah, my wife makes the best cookies. Isn't she amazing? And beautiful..."
Duo nodded, staring down at the cookie, suddenly not feeling quite so hungry. There were flowers on the table, and they reminded Duo of the flowers he'd gotten in the desert, when he and Quatre had fled after Heero self-destructed. He set the half-eaten cookie down on the plate, and cradled both hands around the mug. Distantly he was aware Hughes had stopped speaking, and he shook himself from his melancholy long enough to give Hughes a bright smile.
"Sorry, just..." Duo shrugged. "Sorry."
"It's okay. Homesick?" Hughes glanced at the cookie, then at Duo.
"Yeah." Duo blew on his hot chocolate some more, just for something to do. "I don't like sitting here, with nothing to do."
"Then we'll get Alicia and Alphonse back inside," Hughes declared. "We can all draw pictures. Wait until you see what an amazing artist my daughter is! She doesn't need to draw within the lines, and such a sense of color!"
Duo couldn't help but grin, and followed Hughes into the kitchen.
It was nearing dusk when the knock came at the front door. The sound was a sharp, hard rapping, and Hughes lifted Alicia off his lap, setting her down with an absent pat on her shoulder and a shushing sound. Hughes pointed to the kitchen, and Gracia nodded, beckoning to Duo, who grabbed his coat and followed. Alphonse remained by Alicia. The kitchen door swung closed behind Duo, and he immediately shoved his arms into the coat sleeves as Gracia grabbed a piece of paper and began scribbling.
"I can't read your words," Duo whispered as quietly as possible. He could hear a deep voice speaking, followed by Hughes' lazy voice, then Alphonse's higher-pitched tone.
"No words," Gracia said with a smile, finishing the last stroke and shoving the paper towards him. "Go out the back, and through the back gate. Go right..." She pointed. "And at the street, go left. You understand?"
"Where am I heading?"
"Someplace safe, I hope. Watch yourself, and be careful."
Gracia bent down, hugging Duo quickly. He was startled, and then hugged her back with a sigh. She smelled like roses and mint, and he exhaled deeply, not wanting to let go, suddenly. But then he was being released, and pushed towards the back door. He put the paper in his pocket and ducked around the side of the house, hugging the early evening shadows under the bushes. He'd just latched the gate when he heard Gracia explaining to someone that she was bringing in her daughter's toys. Duo took off down the back alley between the city houses, keeping to the grassy edge where his footfalls would be padded. At the street, he glanced both ways, and took off, pulling the map out and checking it as he ran.
Two blocks, then right. The map was rudimentary, but it had crosshatches for intersections, and arrows pointing when to turn. Another block, and make a left. He wondered what the little squiggly lines were, and chuckled as he saw the footbridge up ahead. Over the bridge, another two blocks, and another right. Duo scanned the paper as he ran, noting the picture of the building with the arrow curving around it. He hoped that meant he should go around to the back, and he glanced up to see an apartment building, four stories high, halfway down the block. Checking the paper, he noted the arrow pointing at the fourth floor. Next to the arrow was a little circle, with a triangle in it. Duo squinted at the shape, not sure of the details between running while reading and the half-light of the streetlamps kicking in.
Panting, he halted in the alleyway, trying to get his breath as he stared up at the building. Shoving the paper in his pocket, he looked around, wondering how he could get up on the fourth floor. Glancing out at the street, he saw a car pull up, and he slunk back in the shadows as three men got out. One was speaking in an insistent tone, and then paused. The silence was filled with a low murmur that Duo couldn't make out, but it wasn't truly dark enough yet for him to risk poking his head out to look. Duo slipped farther down the alleyway to check behind the building.
The back of the building was like any city building on L2, with trashcans lined up along the wall, and two cars parked in the backspaces. There was a gutter pipe running up the corner of the building, and Duo assessed the possibilities, noting the windows within an arm's reach of the drainpipe. Rubbing his hands together, he tested the weight on the pipe, grabbed a hold, and began hoisting himself upwards.
He was at the second floor when he heard footsteps below, and froze. Looking down, he could see a man in military uniform coming around the corner. The man paced back and forth, before settling down on the back steps and lighting a cigarette. The scent drifted up towards Duo and he wrinkled his nose, waiting to see if the man would go away when he was done smoking. Instead, the man leaned back, and the overhang of the back door hid the upper half of his body. Duo grinned, and carefully began climbing again. Every few feet he'd stop, listening carefully, but his passage was cat-soft silent, and he could only chuckle mentally over the fact that he was breaking into an apartment directly over a guard's head.
Maybe the doctor brought over Oz troops and replaced this world's military with Oz, Duo thought; it would explain the incompetence, or perhaps such is true of all hidebound regimented worlds where the military is convinced it's the greatest power. He snorted, then caught himself, waiting to see if the guard heard anything. When no shouts came, he levered himself up the last few feet, and reached across to the window. It was unlatched, and he tentatively pushed the casement windows open with a sigh of relief.
It took a bit of scuffling to throw himself from the drainpipe to the windowsill. The long coat covered most of the sounds, and he was through the window in a heartbeat, crouching by the open window with his heart in his throat. He was in a study, bookshelves from floor to ceiling around him, and an old desk, piled high with papers. Somewhere, in the apartment, he could hear sizzling, like something cooking in a pan. He sniffed, recognizing the scent of coffee. Staying low, he crept forward, testing each step for creaks before putting down his weight.
At the doorway, Duo peered around the corner, glancing up and down the hallway before heading towards the scents and sounds of someone in the apartment. At each open door he paused, listening before poking his head around. The first room was a bathroom, the claw-footed tub glistening dully in the early evening light. The next room was a bedroom, as large as Hilde's garage, Duo thought, but sparse of everything but a low bed and a small bedside table. Duo shrugged and continued, towards the next open door that spilled yellow light into the hallway.
He leaned around the corner, holding his breath and watching, somehow unsurprised to see the Lieutenant Colonel standing with his back to the doorway. The man was still wearing his dress pants with the unusual split-overskirt, but his jacket was off and his feet were bare. His white shirt was rolled up to above his elbows. Duo watched, uncertain, his gaze traveling across the room, noting the large stove, the curve of the faucet on the sink, and then the table in the middle of the room—set with two places. A cup of coffee, still steaming, sat by one place.
Ah, so that's how it is, Duo thought, and grinned smugly. Striding across the room with a certain bit of confidence, he landed silently in the seat. He even had time to strip off his coat, letting it fall over the back of the chair, and was comfortably settled before Mustang turned around.
To Mustang's credit, Duo noted, the man barely reacted to Duo's presence at the table. He paused momentarily, his eyes going wide for a heartbeat before he nodded, coming to the table with a pan in his hand.
"Do you mind vegetables?"
"Vege..." Duo shrugged, and looked at the pan. "Tomatoes, potatoes, celery, carrots," he rattled off in his own language, and nodded enthusiastically. "Sure."
Mustang's eyebrow quirked, and he scooped out the stir-fried vegetables into a large serving bowl. Returning to the stove, he set down the pan and came back with two bowls of rice. Handing Duo a set of chopsticks, he smirked as Duo fiddled with the chopsticks, then watched him serve a spoonful of vegetables onto the bowl of rice. Within a minute or two, Duo had figured out how to use the chopsticks, and had reasonable success getting the food to his mouth.
"These are good," Duo said, keeping his voice low. "You are good at..." He waved his chopsticks at the kitchen, not sure how to put it.
"Cooking," Mustang answered, and shrugged. "I live alone. No one else is going to cook for me, and restaurants get old."
Duo nodded, getting the gist of the meaning, and eyed the bowl of vegetables. Mustang pointed at the bowl with his chopsticks, making a waving motion towards Duo, who happily helped himself to more.
"We don't have food like this, in my world. Vegetables? Cost lots of money...too much." Duo grinned around a bite of tomato. "These are better than donuts. Lots better."
Mustang laughed, a soft barking sound. "Better than sweets? Well, that's a vote of confidence in my cooking."
Duo laughed, unabashed. He mimicked Mustang's actions, holding the bowl up close to his face to shovel the rice into his mouth. Swallowing, he set the empty bowl down, laying his chopsticks neatly beside it. He waited until Mustang had finished as well, and pointedly glanced around the kitchen.
"Working his ass off," Mustang said. He looked like he was having a hard time keeping from laughing. "I sent him to rebuild the array."
"To send me home?" Duo sat bolt upright. "How soon—"
"Several more hours," Mustang said. "I just came from there. It was enough for General Tanaka to see the beginnings of the design, but not enough that his staff could duplicate it from memory and have much to show for it. Fullmetal will be there the rest of tonight, trying to finish it."
"And then what?" Duo licked his finger and nudged a piece of rice, sucking it off his finger as he watched Mustang start to clear the table. "When do I go home?"
"When the array is complete. Fullmetal will let me know."
"Why are you helping me?"
Mustang stopped, his back to Duo, and carefully set the bowls in the sink. He ran the water, washing and rinsing the bowls before he turned around, wiping his hands on a dishtowel. Dropping it on the counter, he leaned against the sink and crossed his arms, staring at Duo.
"Fullmetal...Edward...wants to protect you."
Mustang said nothing, but reached for the pan, dropping it into the sink and running water over it for several minutes. Duo got up, bringing the rest of the dishes from the table and setting them on the countertop next to Mustang. He reached out, and turned off the water, looking up at Mustang's lowered face.
"You protect him," Duo whispered.
"I do," Mustang replied. His voice was even, but low.
"I tried." Duo turned to lean against the countertop, aware he was inadvertently echoing Mustang's former position, and crossed his arms. "When the guard was killed by the chimeras...I couldn't stop it. I couldn't keep him from seeing." Duo shrugged, and shifted, feeling the gun at the base of his spine press into his skin.
"We'll be waiting awhile. The living room has too many windows, and I always spend my evenings in the study," Mustang said. "Get your coffee. I presume you came through the study window?"
Duo gave Mustang a suspicious look. "You left the windows unlocked."
"Did that as soon as I got the call from Hughes," Mustang replied, smirking. "Which is why I'm still in uniform. Go on, and I'll get changed. And take your shoes off, too."
"Sure," Duo said, and knelt down, unbuckling his boots and leaving them by the sink.
Grabbing the cup of coffee, he refilled it from the pot and trotted down the hallway towards the back room. The bedroom door was half-closed, and a low light seeped into the hallway. Past the bathroom, and into the study, Duo seated himself in the desk chair, flipping it around so he was sitting backwards. A minute later Mustang appeared, looking considerably more comfortable in low-slung gray sweats, and a dark blue long-sleeved shirt. He closed the window, but didn't latch it, and settled into the large wingback chair in the corner. The two were silent for several minutes, sipping their coffee, before Mustang lowered his mug and stared at Duo for a long stretch.
"I can only protect Edward from so much," Mustang said. "He's going to head into things, whether I like it or not."
"I know." Duo gave Mustang a wry smile. "He has...a purpose," he added, feeling out the word and deciding it fit. "But he's military?"
"No." Mustang's smirk glimmered in the moonlight through the window. "I am. Edward is a National Alchemist, which is the only way he can have access to research and materials that are otherwise off-limits to civilians. That means, however, that he answers to the military. If we go to war, he will have to go, as well."
"He's not the kind who can kill," Duo observed. He stared down at his coffee, his voice dropping to barely a whisper. "He's not like us."
"I hope he never will be," Mustang replied.
"This country is at war." Duo shifted in the chair, pulling one leg up to rest his chin on his knee. "I don't see military in the streets, but it feels...to me...like..."
"Yes, we are." Mustang set down his mug on the edge of the desk and leaned back, clasping his hands across his stomach. "This country has been expanding its borders, taking over other countries, for a long time. And sometimes..." He leaned his head back, and closed his eyes. "It's not worth it."
Duo sipped his coffee, making a face as he realized it had chilled to room temperature. Leaning over, he set it on the end of the desk closest to him, and straddled the chair again, draping his arms across the back as he studied the shelves. There were books crammed into every available space, with more squeezed in above the rest. Every book seemed to have little tabs and notes sticking from it, which gave the appearance of a thousand white feathers drifting across the dark leather spines. Duo sighed.
"Sometimes it is worth it," Duo replied, a smile playing across his lips. "I have to get back to my world, to keep fighting. There are not lots of us, and..." He exhaled, shrugging. "Every day I am away..."
"Do you like it?" Mustang opened his eyes, their darkness nearly as complete as the shadows between the books.
"Like?" Duo smirked. "That has nothing to do with it. My people...once, they smiled. Now, with the military telling us what to do, and who to be...there are no more smiles. I don't know if I like being the one who kills. But it's what I have to do. I can't ask someone else to do it for me. I will kill, so they don't have to."
Mustang nodded, but didn't say anything.
Duo watched the man, puzzled by something in the man's demeanor that he couldn't quite put his finger on. Mustang was self-contained, but there was something implacable about him, at the same time. A purity, Duo decided, as though he had a certainty almost as complete as Edward's. Duo rubbed his nose and thought about that, and then his mouth was open before he realized what he was saying.
"You have a purpose, too," he said.
"Yes," came the quiet reply.
"Edward will help you get there," Duo continued, curious.
Duo considered that, and decided he was satisfied. He had heard enough, although he wasn't certain why he cared to make sure Edward's commander was honorable. It was, Duo realized, a strange sense of his own responsibility, perhaps. If he hadn't had it, then he wouldn't have had a problem with the colonists who were so eager to fight and yet had no plans for how to handle peace. Well, he thought, that and the minor detail that he wasn't interested in getting help from someone with malicious intentions towards peace. It just wasn't his style.
He rested his chin on his wrists, and studied a scrap of paper tucked under one of the books. It showed a circle, with two triangles, but looked like an awkward scrawl. Duo pointed to it. "What's that?"
"Hunh?" Mustang twisted in the chair to see, then smiled, settling back down. "Alicia drew that. It's supposed to be an array."
"Ah." Duo couldn't keep a grin off his face. "Hughes is very happy about his daughter."
Mustang's laugh was another sharp bark. "He's quite enthusiastic about it." His chuckle settled down into a growl. "He drives me crazy."
"Oh, a good friend." Duo arched his eyebrows as Mustang raised his hands in surrender.
"I don't think I have much say in the matter." Mustang smirked.
"Edward doesn't use an array," Duo observed. "And you only need to..." He snapped his fingers, demonstrating.
"Not entirely." Mustang leaned forward, groaning with the action, and pulled one of the desk drawers open. He fished out a glove, slipping it onto his hand. Turning his hand so the back faced Duo, he displayed a more intricate version of the crayon drawing on the shelf. "It's an array. With this—" He snapped his fingers, and a small plume of fire shot up from his hand, dispersing quickly. "—I make fire. I'm the Flame Alchemist."
"That's useful," Duo said, impressed despite himself. He glanced around the room. "This is not the best place for it."
"Hm, no, it's not." Mustang slipped off the glove and shoved it into a pocket of his sweatpants. "Did you want to sleep? It may be late, before we hear from Fullmetal."
Duo noted the change in names, and sensed it meant the walls of formality were coming back down. He shrugged, sitting up so he could stretch lazily. "I want the chair you're in," he told Mustang.
"No need. I'll be up for awhile," Mustang said. "I've got some research to do. If it gets too late before Fullmetal calls, I'll sleep on the sofa." He shrugged. "I do it often enough. The bedroom's at the back, and our guards won't see you moving about, then."
"I could walk within ten feet of them and they wouldn't see me," Duo boasted. "I climbed up your building right over the head of one of the guards."
"I'll keep that in mind," Mustang said, standing. "I'll be taking that chair, now. I'll come wake you when I hear from Fullmetal."
"Okay." Duo stood, feeling a little awkward, and grinned to cover. "Thanks for the food. And the coffee."
"Be good, and I'll give you some to take home with you," Mustang said. "Go on, shorty."
Duo chuckled and shook his head, pulling his braid around to the front and displaying it to Mustang. "I'm no shorty. Mine's three times as long as his." When Mustang blinked, Duo only laughed, and trotted off to the bedroom.